Merle Haggard

Hag: The Capitol Recordings 1968-1976 - Concepts, Live & the Strangers

  • AllMusic Rating
    10
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

Twelve years after they released their first Merle Haggard box, The Untamed Hawk, Bear Family delivered the sequel, Hag: The Studio Recordings 1969-1976. This picks up where The Untamed Hawk left off, which is more of a musical dividing point than it initially seems. If The Untamed Hawk caught Haggard as he was reaching full flight, Hag captures him in his prime, as every single he released reached the Country Top Ten -- often capturing the number one slot -- and as he sometimes crossed over into the pop Top 40. Hag was without a doubt the biggest star in country music but the remarkable thing about his reign at the top was that he never played it safe. During this eight-year span, he recorded few songs as iconic as "Strangers," "Swinging Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down" or "Mama Tried," but a notable exception was "Okie from Muskogee" and its ornery cousin, "The Fighting Side of Me." Both were reactionary rhetoric in the midst of the Vietnam war, but where the latter was itching for a brawl -- a perfect pairing for its tough, twangy, Bakersfield sound -- "Okie" was gentler in its music and sweetly nostalgic in its tone, romanticizing an America that may never have been there.

As Hag makes clear, "Okie" provides the keystone for the last half of Haggard's Capitol recordings, as his music mellowed and deepened, and he turned toward painting a picture of his ideal America, knowing full well that the good times may already be over. The music feels different than that on Untamed Hawk -- it's not as lean and tense, not as indebted to Buck. It's warmer yet more adventurous and far-ranging, at once referencing the past but sounding progressive, sounding smoother, but never turning pop. Haggard's writing also underwent a subtle evolution, as he developed a narrative eye that had songs like "Tulare Dust" and "The Seashores of Old Mexico" play like short stories. With their spare, vivid lyrical detail, these songs created a mythic image of America that the music matched with its blend of country, folk, blues, and jazz, so thoroughly integrated it was often impossible to discern where the styles began...unless it was on the genre exercises that Hag and the Strangers tore into with thrilling abandon. Merle wrote a bunch of these himself, notably the spectacular Western swing of "Living with the Shades Pulled Down" and "Old Man from the Mountain," songs that illustrated his debt to Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills. It's possible to hear the influence of his idols here but all of Hag's full-length tributes, such as his timeless Wills and Jimmie Rodgers salutes, aren't here -- they, along with the Strangers albums, are bundled on a third Bear Family box, out in 2008 -- but his knack for finding great material is wholly evident, whether he's cutting his old friend Tommy Collins' "Carolyn" or cherry-picking Dolly Parton's "Kentucky Gambler."

Much of this variety can be heard on the many, many individual albums Haggard released during the first half of the '70s -- most of the best of which have been reissued on CD, including great two-fers from both Capitol and BGO -- but hearing it all in this six CD box, the depth and consistency of his music is stunning. Perhaps there are no revelations here aside from the political -- almost immediately after "Okie from Muskogee" became a smash, he began recording songs that backed away from the curmudgeonly conservative bent of that hit, explaining that he's in the divide between the left and right, returning to that sentiment again and again during this stretch at Capitol -- yet there doesn't need to be, as Hag offers the richest, fullest portrait of Merle's America, a world that only grows more alluring with each passing year.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:04 Amazon
2 02:24 Amazon
3 02:51 Amazon
4 00:49 Amazon
5 02:45 Amazon
6 02:52 Amazon
7 02:42 Amazon
8 02:53 Amazon
9 00:38 Amazon
10 03:16 Amazon
11 03:21 Amazon
12 03:38 Amazon
13 03:14 Amazon
14
00:54 Amazon
15 03:26 Amazon
16 03:00 Amazon
17 02:04 Amazon
18 03:18 Amazon
19 03:17 Amazon
20 03:47 Amazon
21 02:50 Amazon
22
00:55 Amazon
23 02:50 Amazon
24 03:03 Amazon
25 02:47 Amazon
26 01:34 Amazon
27 03:09 Amazon
28 03:35 Amazon
29 02:37 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:37 Amazon
2 00:51 Amazon
3 02:40 Amazon
4 02:15 Amazon
5 03:01 Amazon
6 03:15 Amazon
7 02:39 Amazon
8 02:40 Amazon
9 03:38 Amazon
10 02:39 Amazon
11 02:54 Amazon
12 02:34 Amazon
13 02:49 Amazon
14 03:21 Amazon
15 00:34 Amazon
16 02:35 Amazon
17 02:09 Amazon
18 03:59 Amazon
19 07:16 Amazon
20 02:03 Amazon
21 02:25 Amazon
22 01:07 Amazon
23 03:02 Amazon
24 02:41 Amazon
25 02:35 Amazon
26 03:09 Amazon
27 01:02 Amazon
28
05:52 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 01:24 Amazon
2 02:32 Amazon
3
02:38 Amazon
4 03:16 Amazon
5 02:48 Amazon
6 03:44 Amazon
7 04:03 Amazon
8 02:02 Amazon
9 02:42 Amazon
10 05:35 Amazon
11 02:03 Amazon
12 03:27 Amazon
13 03:11 Amazon
14 01:59 Amazon
15 03:38 Amazon
16 02:45 Amazon
17 02:51 Amazon
18 02:53 Amazon
19 02:44 Amazon
20 01:49 Amazon
21 03:05 Amazon
22 03:19 Amazon
23 01:50 Amazon
24 00:54 Amazon
25
02:01 Amazon
26 03:01 Amazon
27 02:42 Amazon
28
01:05 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 04:40 Amazon
2 03:26 Amazon
3 03:27 Amazon
4 02:26 Amazon
5 02:09 Amazon
6 02:56 Amazon
7 01:23 Amazon
8
02:10 Amazon
9 03:33 Amazon
10 02:25 Amazon
11 03:15 Amazon
12 04:03 Amazon
13
01:00 Amazon
14 05:02 Amazon
15 02:51 Amazon
16 03:38 Amazon
17 02:30 Amazon
18 03:43 Amazon
19 00:43 Amazon
20
01:28 Amazon
21
02:59 Amazon
22 03:02 Amazon
23 04:13 Amazon
24
02:45 Amazon
25 01:51 Amazon
26 02:14 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:44 Amazon
2 02:30 Amazon
3 02:32 Amazon
4 02:07 Amazon
5 02:08 Amazon
6 01:59 Amazon
7 02:23 Amazon
8 02:05 Amazon
9 02:02 Amazon
10 02:58 Amazon
11 01:43 Amazon
12 02:14 Amazon
13 02:02 Amazon
14 01:33 Amazon
15 02:04 Amazon
16 02:10 Amazon
17 01:41 Amazon
18 02:05 Amazon
19 02:19 Amazon
20 02:24 Amazon
21 01:55 Amazon
22 01:45 Amazon
23 02:05 Amazon
24 02:48 Amazon
25 02:10 Amazon
26 01:50 Amazon
27 02:45 Amazon
28 02:12 Amazon
29 02:06 Amazon
30 01:37 Amazon
31 02:30 Amazon
32 03:15 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 6

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 03:27 Amazon
2 03:11 Amazon
3 03:09 Amazon
4 02:56 Amazon
5 02:43 Amazon
6 02:48 Amazon
7 02:51 Amazon
8 03:00 Amazon
9 02:18 Amazon
10 02:21 Amazon
11
02:30 Amazon
12 02:03 Amazon
13 01:53 Amazon
14 02:14 Amazon
15 02:23 Amazon
16 01:52 Amazon
17
02:13 Amazon
18 02:22 Amazon
19 01:57 Amazon
20 02:15 Amazon
21 02:30 Amazon
22 02:34 Amazon
23
01:55 Amazon
24 03:29 Amazon
25 02:22 Amazon
26 01:57 Amazon
27 01:40 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick